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September 11, 2007

World trade center — my host father’s story

Filed under: 往事如风 — Tags: — Fei @ 12:15 am

Preamble: This article was finished almost a year ago, shortly after I first created the series of 9.11 and the article describing my experience on that day. However, I never intended to post it on the blog in the past year.

A lot of things have happened in the past year. I still remember the last time I met my host family in a hotel near SFO. In our dinner conversation, we talked about 9.11 again… My host father was a frequent visitor of the restaurant: Windows on the World, which was on the 107th floor of the north tower. His company had a club called fifteen year club, to credit each employee who served the company for more than fifteen years. The annual banquet of the club was in that restaurant. My host father himself was the chair of the banquet the year before (2000). My host mother was actually in the tower the day before 9.11: her company invited her to have lunch in the Windows on the World. She looked down from inside the window and told her friends… it was sooo intimidating looking down… human was sooo small comparing to the gigantic concrete building… I didn’t realize at that time that it was the last time I met her…

But anyway, below is my original article with minor refinement.

My host father was born in a fire-fighter’s family. His father was a chief firefighter of a small town in upstate New York. Since his childhood, he helped his father in the fire department and gained extensive knowledge on fires. Even today we can still find some fire-fighter’s old gadgets in his house.

But he did not become a firefighter. He joined a lucrative consulting company, mainly consulting fire hazard for insurance companies. The company used to headquarter in the world trade center. One day after the 9.11 attack, he told me his story about the twin towers.

Shortly after the twin towers were completed, the company was considering to move to one of the towers. Because it’s a fire hazard consulting company, the company asked my host father to give the twin towers an inspection. The result was quite disappointing. No fire hoses were found in the high-rise buildings, neither were axes. More importantly, the doors to the emergency exit stairs were not automatically shut down in case of a fire. The smoke would soon fill the stairs, making it impossible to escape. He reported the poor condition to the company as well as the port authority. Later, because of a fire accident in one of the high-rise buildings in 1975, port authority did install electronic doors to all exits. However, the company still decided not to move into the two buildings. It moved to world trade center building seven. That building, was the third building collapsed in 9.11, mainly due to fire.

Time soon became the year 2000. In the past twenty plus years, the land of lower Manhattan appreciated significantly. As a result, the rent of world trade center also skyrocketed. The company finally decided to move out of Manhattan, to the other side of the Hudson river — Jersey city. The main incentive was, of course, the rent. The relocation could save several thousand dollars per squad foot, per year in rent. The move did not finish untill the first half of 2001. His new office was just facing the Hudson river, lower Manhattan, and the twin towers. At that time, neither him, nor the company realized the importance of the relocation. It not only saved the company millions of dollars in rent, but also saved the company itself as well as the lives of all employees.

On the day of Sept. 11, 2001. He stood in front of the window facing the flamed twin towers, as a first hand witness. His co-worker, a veteran in Vietnam War, said: I want to go to war again.

September 20, 2006

My 9.11

Filed under: 往事如风 — Tags: — Fei @ 9:58 pm

September 2001, I just started my second year of Ph.D. study at Princeton University. The University sits in a quite little town 50 miles south of New York city, a town just escapes the crowd of the metropolitan, but is still convenient for a day trip. I just started my research projects, which were in collaboration with NEC lab, America. I was required to go to the lab once a while to do some experiments. The lab was not far from the University, only 12 minutes driving. However, at that time, I did not have a driving license, nor a car. How can I get to the lab? The answer is — bike. Sept. 11 2001, Tuesday, I planed to bike to NEC lab. After having a light breakfast, I packed my lunch and headed to NEC lab. When I biked near the math department, I met a friend. The first word he said was “Do you know that the world trade center was hit by a plane?”.

“Really?” I asked. It was the first time I heard the story, very brief and vague. What kind of plane? Was it serious? Those questions were haunted in my head. I hesitated for a while, weighting the news, but I still decided to continue the trip. I had planed the trip for days, and should not be disrupted by an unclear message.

The bike route was surprisingly long, a lot longer than the car route. I biked on sand trails, crossed multiple bridges, as well as a major highway. 50 minutes later, I finally arrived at the lab. The lab was surprisingly quite. Only a few cars were parked outside. The entire 4-storey building seemed empty. I did not meet anyone on the way to my cube. Nobody was in the kitchen as well. A secretary’s desk was a few steps away from my cube. She was not there, but the radio on her desk was constantly broadcasting live news in low volume. Later on when I walked around to look for people, I only saw a few. They were all walking in the hallway and quickly disappeared around the corner. It was definitely not an ordinary day. To be honest, the scene was a bit scary.

I wanted to head back immediately, but that would waste several days’ planning, and 50 minutes biking. I tried to calm down and do some research, but I could not help reading the news on the computer: four planes were down, twin towers collapsed. News were updated in real time. I had too many questions in mind, too many questions unanswered. As a result, I did not do any research in the morning. At lunch time, I quietly finished my packed lunch box in the kitchen, alone. Then, I seated in my cube for a while, became even more uneasy. The radio still murmured in the background, but nobody showed up. Finally, I made the decision to go home.

Again after an hour’s biking, I got home at Annex. Immediately I turned the TV and computer on. I was a bit worried about my host family. My host father used to work in world trade center. But fortunately, his company moved to Jersey city earlier in the year. Still, I wrote them an email asking for their situation. They replied in a couple of hours. It was really fortunate. My host mother was in world trade center the week before to take classes, but both of them were fine that day. I was a little relaxed after reading the email.

I spent the rest of the day in front of the computer, or TV, or both. At that time, all major TV networks refrained from broadcasting the terrible scenes. I no longer saw the crashing of UA175 on the south tower, the collapse of the twin towers, even the flamed towers or Pentagon. Nothing really was new. However, I still constantly reading and watching the updated news till late at night.

After midnight, I fell asleep in my little cozy room at Annex, unawaring that the world was no longer the same.

September 11, 2006

Remember 9.11

Filed under: 往事如风 — Tags: — Fei @ 10:27 pm

911, the number we usually call when we are in great need, is now forever tied to a date, a date that may have changed history. On 9/11/2001, four US domestic commercial airplanes were hijacked. Two hit the twin towers of world trade center, one hit the Pentagon, and the other crashed in an empty field of western Pennsylvania. As a result, nearly three thousand people were killed, the 110-storey twin towers collapsed, and one side of Pentagon severely damaged.

Sept. 11 has forever changed the world, changed everyone’s life. People have passed from the initial panic, anger, united, to the more recent confusion, suspect, and divided. Now five years have passed since the tragedy. People have gathered pieces of information of that day. People have started to rethink the post 911 war on terror.

Recently, many TV channels cast documentaries to reveal the details of that special day. Movie makers did the same. In the past few weeks, I watched movie “United 93”, several documentaries on Discovery, CBS, as well as the ABC controversial “The path to 9/11”. I was very much inspired by the heroic deeds of the firefighters, port authority officers, and police officers. Ordinary men did unordinary things.

It is Sept. 11, 2006 today. I asked to myself: what I was doing on that day? What was my feeling? What’s my view on the war? Maybe it’s time to write something down — to help me remember this historic day.

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